Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
Nothing cute or clever from me today. Instead, I need to take on a more serious tone. It’s not fun to talk about, but very important. Several years ago, research showed that the average life expectancy in America had dropped for the first time in recent history. This was trending even prior to the current COVID pandemic we are in which only exacerbated the problem. Why? Many experts believe that the opioid crisis is one big part of the reason. For example, over 100,000 related deaths occurred between April 2020 and April 2021. Earlier this week, I sat in a presentation for area clergy with a team of people from New Pathway Counseling Services. They are a local organization that is committed to helping people with addictive disorders—whether that be alcohol, opioids, prescription drugs, or other.
Over the past several years, opioid abuse has reached epidemic proportions – and it’s happening within our communities. The face of the opioid crisis is no longer the heroin addict strung out on the streets. Roughly 21-29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them (that equated to 11.4 million prescription opioid addicts in 2016). In other words, the people who are struggling with such addictions are not necessarily doing so intentionally. They’re not looking for trouble. They're not longtime drug abusers. Opioid use is entirely centered around one objective–pain alleviation, whether physical or psychological. As a result, these are the people we do life with on a daily basis. It’s the college athlete with the long-term effects of knee injuries. It’s the neighbor who has just returned from active service in the military. It’s the mother of two that is in so much pain from surgical complications. It’s the teenager that didn’t realize how dangerous this “quick-fix” could be. In other words, it is our neighbors and co-workers, our friends and our family. They’re desperately trying to remove the physical pain and numb the emotional hurts as well, but in doing so, they find themselves in a spiral of despair and danger.
A related online article asked this question, putting this concern front-and-center for clergy…
"Is anyone suffering in your congregation or community? If so, then be assured they are tempted to escape through self-medicating (whether prescribed or illegal) rather than running toward the Lord. Church leaders are gatekeepers for those in any sort of pain, who find themselves stuck between those two alternatives – Jesus or drugs. Hesitating to speak openly with the church about the opioid crisis, share facts about the dangers, train members to recognize the signs and intervene boldly when required leaves those in pain at risk of falling to temptation."
As I said, I know that this is not an enjoyable read. However, the point of sharing this with you all, is to increase your awareness just as mine was during that presentation. Opioid, alcohol, or drug abuse is not a moral failing for us to just shake our heads at. It's not that simple. It is a disease. In Jesus’ time, people who were blind or lame were not looked upon by the pious as people with a disease or a disability; they were “sinners” who “deserved what they got.”
Jesus taught differently, and rightly called His followers to lead the charge of those who were sick and hurting. In that vein, you need to know that the church is here to help. Any church, any clergy. I am here to help if you or someone in your family struggle with any sort of addition or destructive behavior. I may not be the one directly counseling you; but I will get you in touch with the best people who can bring swift healing and recovery. I can connect you with the people that I am meeting and the resources that are available in our community. This will get you, or the people you care about, the help needed so much quicker than by going through a general website or helpline. I know this issue is uncomfortable; it can be delicate and even disconcerting. But it has long been said that the church is a hospital for sinners. We know this is true spiritually, but our care for broken people doesn't end there.
Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Pastor Steve Vera